Vice President Walter F. Mondale yesterday warned Japanese Foreign Minister Sonoda not to take "lightly" American criticism of Japan's large trade surplus and its impact on the world economy, according to Japanese sources.

Sonoda is here for talks preparatory to a bilateral meeting here early in May between Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira and President Carter. It will be the first meeting between the two men since Ohira became the head of his government late last year.

Japans world-wide trade surplus last year of about $25 billion and a current account (which includes services as well as merchandise trade) surplus of $16 billion have created tension between Japan and her Western trading partners.

An effort is being made, prior to an economic summit in Tokyo late in June, to arrive at some long-term agreements that promise to reduce the Japanese surpluses. The Sonoda visit, and the subsequent Ohira-Carter talk, are part of that effort.

In particular, both the Japanese and Carter administration officials are trying to defuse a congressional move, launched by Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) for a surcharge on Japanese imports.

Mondale and Sonoda were reported to have concentrated on a range of political and security issues including those relating to Asia and the Middle East, with economic problems brought in only tangentially. But Mondale brought up the question of economic tensions between the two countries and told Sonoda that a critical atmosphere was pervasive in many U.S. localities affected by Japanese imports, as well as on Capitol Hill.

Japanese sources said that Sonoda responded that he was fully aware of the significance of the economic issues.

Sonoda later had similar conversations with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and presidential aide Zbigniew Brzezinski. After a weekend rest at Williamsburg, Va., Sonoda will return to Washington where he will have meetings Monday and Tuesday with Secretary of the Treasury W. Michael Blumenthal, Special Trade Representative Robert S. Strauss, Secretary of Commerce Juanita Kreps, Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger and presidential aide Henry Owen.